• Show Notes

Dear Reader,

Welcome to my Carroll Hardy moment. 

In 1960, during a late-season game against the Baltimore Orioles, Ted Williams came to the plate for the Boston Red Sox. The Splendid Splinter, as Williams was known, had established himself as the greatest hitter in baseball history, and he arguably still holds that distinction now, six decades later. During his first at-bat, Williams fouled a ball hard off his leg and limped out of the batter’s box in disgust, surely cursing in that charming, old-timey baseball way. He called out to Hardy, some otherwise forgettable kid on the bench, to grab a bat and get in the game. Thus, Carroll Hardy became the first, and only, person ever to pinch-hit for the great Ted Williams. 

Preet’s fine – he hasn’t sustained any bone or tissue injuries – but this week, I’m gonna grab a bat and step in for the Firozpur Flash, the Emperor of Eatontown. You see, our loyal CAFE readers and listeners send dozens of great questions to Preet every week, but he can only answer two or three per podcast. So, as a little holiday-time special, I went through the list and picked out a few of your questions that intrigued me.   

Back in 1960, when Hardy pinch-hit for Teddy Ballgame, he hit into a double play. (This is about the worst thing any hitter can possibly do in baseball.) Let’s hope I fare better. The bar is low.

Thread from @sandyregalmuto: Just curious about the relationships/friendships between Supreme Court Justices. Do they socialize with one another? Do you believe the other justices would have known about Clarence Thomas’s “friends with benefits”?

The Justices are, in many respects, just like any other group of nine people forced to work together. You’ve got friendships, rivalries, grudges, alliances. (I feel like Sam Alito has a lot of frenemies.) Sometimes, judicial (“Justicial?”) relationships surprise. Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Gisberg disagreed constantly on the record, but were fast friends outside of work; they shared a love for the opera and elegant wine. (That’s not my crowd. I think I’d be closest with Justice Sotomayor. She’s a legit baseball fan – Yankees, but I’d forgive her – a card player, a decent home cook, and completely down to earth.) 

The question raises an interesting angle I hadn’t thought about before. We’re all familiar by now with how Justice Clarence Thomas managed to live the high-flying, globetrotting, yacht-hopping life of a tech billionaire despite an annual salary of around $250,000. This recently prompted the Court to grudgingly adopt its first-ever code of ethics, which is basically one of those flimsy, generic band-aids that don’t fix anything and don’t even stick right. But don’t you think the other Justices had to know something about Thomas’s lifestyle? Don’t you think any of his eight colleagues ever said, “Hey Clarence, how was the weekend?” And perhaps, when Thomas responded with tales of private jets and exclusive resorts and mega-yachts, his colleagues might’ve pondered, “Hmmm, how’s Clarence affording all this on a government salary?” We’ll never know. But I’ll betcha they wondered.   

Email from Peggy: In a Trump trial, what kinds of questions could be included on jury selection questionnaires to suss out fear or bias?

I thought we had a tricky task, years ago, when I had to pick a jury in the trial of notorious mob boss John Gotti, Jr. How do we find twelve unbiased jurors? Can we seat twelve ordinary New Yorkers who can truly put aside their views on him – negative and, in some instances, positive – and rule impartially? But that was nothing compared to what the judge, prosecutors, and defense lawyers will have to do to seat a jury in the upcoming trials of Donald Trump. It’ll be a tough task – but certainly not impossible, 

The goal is not to find twelve people who have never heard of Trump; that would be impossible. The goal is to find twelve people (plus a handful of alternates) who can put aside their views on Trump and return a verdict based solely on the evidence introduced in the courtroom and the law, as given by the judge. But that’s easier said than done. Passions around Trump, for and against, run hotter than they do around almost any other celebrity or public figure in American history. 

The judge and the parties likely will use two tacks to thin the herd. First, the judge will come straight out and ask: Can you rule fairly in this case? It’ll be up to the lawyers whether they take the potential jurors at their word (and, as a prosecutor, I surely didn’t always believe at face value what the jury pool members said). Second, we’ll see questions aimed at the periphery but intended to reveal underlying biases. Do you belong to any political organizations? (One can imagine different responses by the attorneys if a potential juror belonged to the ACLU on one hand, or the NRA on the other.) What public figures do you most and least admire? (SDNY judges commonly asked this, and I found responses to be revealing. Imagine here, for example, if a juror named Rudy Giuliani, or Barack Obama, on either list. That’d tell you something, right?)

I do know this: we will seat juries in all the Trump trials. It’ll take work, but it’s not impossible. Our system can handle it.  

Email from reader Ronnie. Is it typical that the Attorney General or any prosecutor make remarks before and after court proceedings? These people all work hard to bring their case forward but to me it would look more professional to at least save any remarks to be given at the close of day.

You’re clearly referring to New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who gave extrajudicial public comments to banks of cameras on the courthouse steps both before and after testimony by Donald Trump and his family members in the New York civil fraud trial. 

I agree with the spirit of this question: it is inappropriate and ill-advised for the AG to turn this case into a personal and political media platform. (I’ve also taken issue with AG James in this space for running for office on an explicit promise to pursue and bring down Trump specifically.) Worse even than the AG’s courthouse steps remarks – which have tended towards blandness – are her tweets, in which she openly brands Trump and his family members as liars. To be clear: the AG made these derogatory public statements about witnesses while those witnesses were testifying, and while the trial was ongoing. This is patently inappropriate, and perhaps worse. 

Imagine if, during an ongoing criminal trial, the Assistant U.S. Attorney gave daily, real-time, out-of-court public commentary calling the defendant and the defense witnesses liars. That AUSA would be disciplined, and possibly fired, and the case might well be thrown out for prosecutorial misconduct. AG James is handling a civil case here, so the stakes aren’t quite as high and the remedies less severe, but the point stands; she’s the chief law enforcement official for the entire state, after all. Prosecutors are fond of saying, “We do our talking in court.” AG James should abide by that.

Thread from @the_real_lord: How is your fantasy football team doing?

This question was sent to Preet so I’ll answer, first, for him: he doesn’t have one. I don’t know that for a fact, but I’m certain of it. Preet doesn’t waste time on such trivialities. (To be clear, he does waste plenty of time on trivialities – just quiz him on Springsteen lyrics, or pled vs. pleaded, or set him loose with a Netflix account and an unscheduled evening – but not this particular triviality.)

Now, with the necessary disclaimer that nobody cares or wants to hear about your fantasy team, ever: mine is doing surprisingly well, currently sitting at an 8-4 record. As with life itself, that’s about 70% luck and 30% skill, and the luck can turn quickly. So things are looking pretty good right now, but I’m quite sure I know how this’ll end – with the modern equivalent of Carroll Hardy bouncing into a double play to kill the rally. 

Thanks to all who wrote in. Keep them coming (you can email to letters@cafe.com), and we’ll try to answer the most intriguing questions here from time to time.